How To Shoot A Zombie Invasion

To shoot a zombie invasion you’ve got to come with the right equipment.

At the 2012 Toronto Zombie Walk photographers almost outnumbered zombies for the first hour or so. I’d guess about a dozen or so of the shooters were pros based on their equipment and more importantly how they handled themselves. There were about 20 or more non-pro photographers and they were easy to spot. They came with the wrong equipment and didn’t know how to shoot a zombie (or anyone else for that matter).

So what did the amateurs do wrong?

In general, they showed up with lenses that were way too long. I guess if you own a $2500 70-210mm f/2.8 lens you’d want to use it but a zombie walk isn’t the place. There are just too many people getting between you and your subject. Also once the walk begins, the zombies are going to be way too close to you.

The pros used flash. A lot. It was a dark day with rain threatening all the time. A flash outdoors under these circumstances is essential. Even the popup flash on your camera will do (Just make certain your lens hood isn’t casting a shadow.)  because all your adding is a little light into the face.

The non-pros tended to carry way too much equipment. A camera bag in a big crowd becomes a liability really quickly and by the end of the day it weighs a ton.

So what did I shoot with?

I shot with Nikon D-300 with a 12-24mm f/4 super-wide zoom and the D-90 with an ancient 24-50mm f/3.3-4.5 zoom with an SB-900 and an external battery.

The D-90 setup allowed me to get small groups into the frame or do closeups of single subjects with the flash being used on every shot. The Chinese built $54 external battery pack holds eight more AA rechargeable cells and while powering the SB-900 (which is known to overheat and shutdown at the worst possible moments under heavy shooting situations – like weddings!) ran flawlessly all day under heavy shooting conditions.The Nikon battery pack is $300 here in Canada! Major ripoff by Nikon IMHO.

So let’s get back to the walk. People who go to the trouble of dressing up as zombies should be shot as well as you can possibly shoot them.

That means you should get in close, make eye contact, smile and ask them verbally or by gesture that it’s okay to shoot them. I don’t do this if they’re more than a couple of feet away but if I’m putting my lens into their face I ask permission. If you’re shooting children alway make certain the parent can see you and is approving. I offer a business card to everyone I shoot (if there’s time) and invite them to download the image for free.

Thank your subject even if it’s just a quick “thank you” shouted out.

Don’t worry about other photographers. There are too many to watch out for. Don’t get in anybody’s way but don’t hesitate to elbow your way into a group scrum as well. Don’t knock anybody over but don’t let the amateur point-and-shoot photographers waste too much of your time as they can take forever to push the shutter.

For zombie walks or any street photography where you’re shooting hundreds even thousands of images (I shot 2500 shots at the zombie walk.) consider shooting JPGs instead of raw. Your camera will run faster shooting JPGs. Now if you’re shooting JPGs just make certain your white balance is set correctly. I shot using auto white balance and I could have used shade to warm up the images. If I’d thought of it, I could have done a couple of test shots with the flash on cameras. Having said that, I knew I was going to over process the images in Lightroom so white balance for zombies isn’t as important as compared to shooting a wedding (which I’d only shoot in raw.)

Best camera for big event street photography is a higher-end DSLR with an accessory battery pac. The camera is going to be running hard and you don’t want the buffer filling up and holding up the shooting while it clears. I was shooting fine JPGs. I could have just as easily shot normal JPGs as 99.99% of these images are going to be used online. Lightroom can handle JPGs or raw. You can apply all the controls and presets to JPGs but you can’t push the pixels the same way you can with raw images. But if you’re shooting 2,500 images you’re not going to work on every image the same way you’d work on a portrait or wedding shoot.

BTW best lens for shooting zombies is your kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR DX Nikkor) which is wide enough for groups, long enough for portraits and fast enough for most outdoor daylight shooting. If you’re shooting later in the day and the light is dimming the 35mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.8 or an 85mm f/1.8 lenses are great. If I could only afford one I’d get the 50mm as it’s less than $150. Sure it’s a plastic lens but it’s a very good plastic lens.

Here’s a couple of other tips:

Wear excellent foot ware. This means sturdy boots or great shoes. You’re going to be standing for hours and good foot ware will pay off big time.

BTW I shot in ….wait for it …P for program mode!

I didn’t have time to figure out manual and the conditions were predictable enough I didn’t need to use manual mode which I do when things start falling apart.

I also had no use for aperture or shutter priority either. I wanted closeup images with no issues. That’s what program mode can deliver with or without flash. All of my images are cropped tight and backgrounds are irrelevant.

ISO was between 400 and 800 depending on the lighting. I carried the two cameras and aside from a more memory cards in my pocket that was it. I was wearing a rain jacket and not a “photographer’s” vest. I wore black as it disappears into the background and I don’t wear glasses when I shoot. I don’t have time to be moving the glasses up and down.

So get out there and start shooting with whatever you got.

This is how you get better fast 🙂

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